Sunday, February 24, 2013

Split Peas Ain't Just For Soup!

While living in Memphis, J and I had a Sunday tradition of going out for Indian food for lunch.  A lazy morning was made even lazier when we piled into the car for the three block trip to India Palace and its incredible buffet. 

As I write this, it is Sunday, J is in Memphis, and I am feeling a bit blue.  I thought I would cheer myself up with some Indian inspiration, so for Meatless Monday I offer up this tasty creation...

Yellow Split Peas with Chiles, Cilantro, and Mint

This flavorful dish is a bit more mellow take on spicy Indian dishes.  Remember, the heat of a chile is in the seeds and ribs.  If you want to make it spicier, leave 'em in!  This dish can also be made with dried chick peas or red lentils.

1 cup dried yellow split peas
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2" fresh ginger, chopped
2 chiles (such as jalapeños), seeded and chopped
1 Tbl coconut or olive oil
3 cups vegetable stock or water
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
2 Tbl fresh mint, chopped
2 Tbl fresh cilantro, chopped

Thin strips of jalapeños, ginger, and tomato to garnish.

Place split peas in a bowl and cover with warm water.  Allow to sit for 20-30 minutes.

In a food processor, grind the ginger and garlic into a paste.  You may want to add just a pinch of salt to help it along.  In a large pan over medium heat, saute the onions, chiles, and garlic and ginger paste in the coconut oil until they begin to brown, roughly seven minutes. 

Drain peas and add to the mixture with the cumin.  Stir to combine and cook for three minutes.  Add water or stock and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 25 minutes until peas are tender and the liquid has reduced by one third.  Add salt, mint, and cilantro.  Serve with naan or over rice.

Garnish with thin strips of jalapeños, ginger, and tomato.

TIP:  The smaller the chile, the hotter it is.  I use a pretty mild jalapeño.  To prepare for cooking, slice off the stem end, then cut in half lengthwise.  Remove seeds and ribs carefully with a knife.  And remember to wash your hands!

TIP:  Peas can be soaked ahead of time in cold water.  Just pop 'em in when you are headed out the door before work!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Pixar Inspiration

Have you ever seen the movie, Ratatouille?  That delightful flick from Pixar, featuring a French rodent with culinary proclivities, warms my heart whenever I think about it.  Not only is it about pursuing your passion despite all obstacles (it's a hard life for a rat in a kitchen), it exposes its audience to the disciplined and inspirational world of cooking.  Anything that encourages young people to have a deep appreciation for food is A-OK in my book.

Now,  have you ever eaten ratatouille?  I haven't.  I mean, I know it's a French peasant dish featuring eggplant (or aubergine to our friends on the other side of the pond), zucchini, red peppers, tomatoes, and onions.  There are several ways to prepare it.  Some say you simply saute the veggies and serve it as a side dish.  Others suggest you make a delicious sauce with the tomatoes, peppers, and onions,  layering the eggplant, zucchini, and sauce into a casserole dish and bake it.

I've been a little soup and stewed out lately, so I thought roasting the ingredients, adding whole grains and some kale, and turn it into a salad (delicious hot or cold) would be a fun variation.  Plus it's a great way to get the kids involved in the kitchen.  Allow me to explain with some yummy...

Roasted Ratatouille Salad with Barley and Kale
The flavors of France with a little kale love!

This bright, hearty dish surprised my dinner guests.  The zing of lemon plays wonderfully with the earthy vegetables.  The addition of barley (or farro if you have a mind to) makes this a filling main course or a great side with fish.

1 1/2 lbs eggplant, cut into 3/4" cubes
3 cups zucchini, cut into 1/2" half moons (about 3 small or 2 medium zucchini)
1 red pepper, seeds removed cut into 1/2" pieces
16 oz cherry tomatoes
1 red onion
4 cloves garlic
8 cups kale (about 1 bunch, stemmed and torn into small pieces)
2 cups cooked barley or farro
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil, plus 2 tsp
1 Tbl Dijon mustard
4 bay leaves
2 sprigs of rosemary
10 sprigs of thyme
1/2 cup fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
lots of salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 450.

To prepare the zucchini, remove the ends and cut in half lengthwise.  Place flat end on your board and slice into 1/2" moons.  To prepare the onion, hold furry root end and slice off the opposite end.  Cut onion in half and remove skin.  Slice off the furry bits, keeping the root still intact, and slice each half into 4 wedges.

Place eggplant, zucchini, onion, pepper, garlic and tomatoes into a large bowl.  Drizzle with 2 tsp olive oil, season liberally with salt and pepper, and toss to coat.  Divide veggies evenly on to two baking sheets lined with parchment paper or foil.  This will help them roast, not steam. Create two herb bundles with the rosemary and thyme.  Place one on each baking sheet along with 2 bay leaves and 2 cloves garlic.  Roast veggies in the oven for about 35-40 minutes, giving them a good stir half way through the cooking time.

While the veggies roast, place kale into a bowl.  Add juice of half the lemon and a tiny drizzle of olive oil.  Using your hands, squeeze the kale to break down the fibers a bit.  This is a great way to involved the kids!  Keep mashing on the kale until it reduces in volume by half, turns bright green, and smells a little like bananas.  (I's weird.)

Allow veggies to cool slightly.  Discard the herbs and set aside roasted garlic cloves. Once they are cool enough to handle, give them a rough chop and transfer to a food processor or blender.  Add mustard, the juice from the remaining half of the lemon, salt and pepper, and process until smooth.  With the motor running, add enough olive oil to make a light vinaigrette.

Add roasted veggies, barley, and chopped parsley to the kale, dress with the vinaigrette, and toss to combine.  Serve warm or at room temp.

TIP:  Veggies and barley can be made up to two days before hand.  Store in air-tight container in the fridge, and bring to room temperature before adding the kale.

TIP:  When preparing the barley or farro, add a bay leaf to the cooking liquid.  I recommend using a good vegetable stock.  And, as always, make a double batch to use later on in the week.  Most grains will last for a week!

TIP:  If you a preparing your grains while the veggies roast, spread out the cooked grain on a baking sheet to help cool faster.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Southern cookin' ain't the healthiest.  If it can be fried, it will be.  If it can be cooked for hours, it shall be.  And if you can put butter in it, on it, or near it, it will be smothered.

That's why I like cornbread.

Had a hankerin' for some, so I whipped this up...

Chipotle Thyme Cornbread

Perfect side for chili or hearty soups.  Let the leftovers (if there are any) hang out in the fridge for a couple of days, dice into cubes, drizzle with olive oil, and pop 'em in the oven for a bit.  Blammo!  Cornbread Croutons!

1 cup cornmeal
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup vegetable oil, plus 2 Tbl
2 tsp chipotle powder
1 Tbl fresh thyme, minced

Preheat oven to 425.  Coat a cast iron skillet with 2 Tbl vegetable oil and place in oven while heating.

In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients.  In a separate bowl, combine eggs, buttermilk and oil.  Pour the wet into the dry and stir to combine.  Pour batter into preheated skillet (I love that sizzle) and bake until top is golden and crispy, about 20-25 minutes.

Allow to cool.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Umami Love

Salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and...umami?

Yep.  There's a fifth taste out there.  Umami is that deliciously savory taste usually found in meat and seafood.  However, many vegetables are filled with umami.  Tomatoes, celery, cabbages, mushrooms, and spinach are rich in umami flavor, as are soy sauce and green tea.  So if you are looking for something that satisfies your savory urges without eating anything with a face, try incorporating these flavors into your food. (My favorite new trick:  grating dried porcini mushrooms into vegetable soups and stews before adding the liquid and using soy sauce instead of salt.)

So try this quick umami-licious recipe!

Mushrooms and Wilted Spinach with Barley

I felt like a rock star when I discovered Trader Joe's has a quick-cooking barely!  Ten(-ish) minutes and you have something satisfying on a cold Chicago night.  It's been raining all day, so I needed the savory comfort of umami.

8 oz baby bella mushrooms, sliced
8 oz oyster mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
8 oz button mushrooms, sliced
1 large onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
16 oz. baby spinach
2 tsp olive oil
2 Tbl balsamic vinegar
pinch of crushed red pepper
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
2 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
2 Tbl fresh parsley, chopped
3 cups cooked barley, divided.

In a large skillet, heat oil until it shimmers.  Add onions, season with salt and crushed red pepper, and saute until tender (about five to seven minutes).  Add mushrooms and saute until browned, roughly 10 minutes.  Stir in garlic, rosemary, and thyme, and cook for two minutes.  Deglaze pan with the vinegar, and add spinach, parsley, and 1 1/2 cups of barley.  Remove from heat and toss to wilt the spinach.  Divide remaining barley onto four plates, and spoon mixture on top.  Serve immediately.

Note:  You can use only one kind of mushroom.  I just like the subtleties the variety provides.  This also turns into one heck of a soup.  Just add all of the barley with 4 cups vegetable stock or water, bring to a boil and simmer for ten minutes.  Add spinach at the very end.

Tip:  Dried rosemary and thyme are great in this dish, if you don't have fresh herbs on hand.  General rule of thumb, use half the amount of dried herbs as fresh.  But never use dried parsley.  It's gross and flavorless and annoying.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Cold Weather Comfort


It's snowing.

And whenever the weather turns nasty, I become incredibly lazy.  And hungry.  I don't want to leave the house, so it's time for a good old pantry raid to see what I can cook up for dinner.  Black beans, quinoa, canned tomatoes. A jalapeño dying in the fridge and an avocado ripening on the counter.

Sounds like soup to me!

Tomato and Black Bean Soup with Quinoa

Warm and satisfying, this protein packed soup is great for those cold nights in front of the tube.  And all you really need is a can opener!  Try serving it with cornbread, baked polenta cakes, or a simple green salad.

4 cups black beans (2 16oz cans)
canned whole tomatoes (28 oz)
2 Tbl olive oil
1 large red onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic
1 jalapeño, minced
1 1/2 Tbl cumin
1 tsp chipotle powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
4 cups water
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
2 cups cooked quinoa
salt n' pepper

In a large stock pot, heat olive oil over medium heat and saute onions, jalapeño, and garlic until softened, about five minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add cumin, chipotle, and cinnamon and cook for two minutes or so allowing the spices to bloom.

Using your hands, squish the tomatoes to break them into more palatable chunks. (This is great for the kids to do!)  Add tomatoes and their liquid to the pot along with the black beans.  Give a good stir to combine.  Add water and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for ten minutes.  Add cilantro.  Transfer 1/3 of the soup to a food processor or blender and puree.  Or, give a couple of pulses with an immersion blender.  Return to pot.  This helps give the soup some body.  Stir in quinoa and serve.

Garnish with avocado slices and cilantro.

TIP:  Make a double batch of quinoa so you have some for later in the week.  Store in an air-tight container in the fridge.

TIP:  This soup freezes beautifully!